Digital Worlds Episode 03 – Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
I was lucky enough to secure an interview with the creative lead at Warhorse Studios, Dan Vávra, and have the opportunity to ask him some questions about what’s going on under the bonnet of their spectacular game, Kingdom Come: Deliverance. This is hopefully the first of a number of visits to this game environment, which is developing in a number of genuinely interesting directions.
HR: On January the 22nd of this year you initiated a Kickstarter project in the hope of raising £300,000 in order to create Kingdom Come: Deliverance. So far £1,106,371 has been raised – did you have the faintest idea that your project would exceed expectations so successfully?
DV: I studied other campaigns very thoroughly, especially those unsuccessful, so judging from what we knew was possible before and what we had to show, we guessed that we can raise something similar as other successful campaigns – If people will like the concept of the game! Which was the biggest unknown and risk and the reason why we had to go to Kickstarter – will people like the concept of medieval realistic hardcore RPG no one did before? Everybody told us, that they will not, I believed that they will.
HR: ‘Dungeons, no Dragons.’ I understand that through crowdfunding models like Kickstarter, many of the barriers and anxieties of bringing a game to market are reduced. However, given the widespread popularity of the fantasy market, were you concerned that the mud, blood, sweat and tears approach was something of a gamble?
DV: I believed exactly the opposite. People love historic novels, movies and TV series and for some weird reason there are almost no history games except some strategy games. SO if there is a person who likes to watch Vikings or Rome TV series, reads historic books and plays Total War games, I would say, that he will be excited to play a historic RPG or action adventure. I am such a person! SO we thought, there is a hole on the market and so far it seems that we may be right.
HR: You’ve decided to develop Kingdom Come: Deliverance using Cryengine. Could you talk us through that choice?
DV: Before we started development, we tested all the engines out there. For three months we were experimenting with 10 or so engines. We needed something that looks good, is able to render large worlds, has realtime lighting, good tools, is multiplatform. In the end we selected Cryengine, because it’s all in one package with the right balance of features for us.
HR: The livestream of the actual gameplay is very impressive. It’s plain that the illusion of immersion depends on the incidental details. In addition to the weather, lighting, and shadows, there are numbers of domesticated animals and a variety of plant species. Was it important to make sure the species were accurate for the period, or were they pre-existing assets?
DV: We are trying to be as accurate as possible. So for example when somebody told us, that our chickens are white, and they weren’t in the middle ages, we changed their texture – we studied how the nature should look like and will try to do it this way. Currently it doesn’t look as it should. We have too many spruces in the forests, because we didn’t have enough variety of tree models at the time of live stream. But on the other hand, we need to tweak something from time to time, so it looks better than real world. Spruces could make very nice “dark woods” for example and I would like to have at least one dark wood in the game.
HR: You’ve obviously done a great deal of research into the period, including weaponry, armour and fighting methods – how difficult is it to find a compromise between playability and authenticity?
DV: It takes little bit more time for research and thinking in the beginning, but in the end it pays off. Research is a giant source of inspiration and makes the thinking easier. If you have to design something from the scratch, it’s actually harder than when you are limited by some boundaries and facts. If you don’t want to design some crap of course :). So I wouldn’t say that you need to find some compromise. These things go naturally hand in hand if you have the right approach.
HR: The AI is pretty in depth – for instance if an NPC goes to the pub, and finds it full, a number of other hobbies will be cycled through and he/she will go off and try a spot of fishing instead. You are in effect giving the NCPs personalities (including the animals). How much of this will affect the player?
DV: The world will not be static and predictable. Interaction with it could create some unexpected situations. The quests could be finished in different ways. Simply, the immersion will be much deeper. When you do something, you will think twice about the consequences and you will take everything much more seriously.
HR: The ‘story-over-action choice’ has dictated that Kingdom Come is single player game. Can you envision a multiplayer release further down the line, or would that make it a completely different game?
DV: We could probably do a game like Day Z with no story and the same mechanics as the single player version and I guess that it would work the same like DayZ if we gave the players some motivations what to do and why. But it would be much harder to develop technically (melee combat vs lag) and design wise – our world is full of NPCs with daily routines, it has has memory of players actions, player has reputation etc. These mechanisms would not work as good in MMO and I don’t think that I want to create another game where you will run around, fight with people and loot stuff.
HR: What part of this project excites you the most?
DV: The fact that we are bringing some long gone era back to life and people will have chance to experience what its like to live in a 15th century. See our history and that magnificent architecture as it once looked. We are creating a time machine to take everyone 500 years back in time and its damn exciting!
For more about Dan Vávra, have a squint at his Wikipedia page.
Here follows the transcript of the Digital Worlds #3 video.
Hi and welcome to the 3rd episode of digital worlds.
This time we’ll be exploring the world of Bohemia during the last knockings of the Middle Ages. The year is 1403, and the game is Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
This title is rapidly becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated games of 2015, and I’ve been lucky enough to get an interview with Dan Vávra , creative designer of Warhorse Studios. If you’d like to read it there will be a link at the end of the video, and in the description box below.
The story takes place during a period of political upheaval caused by a sequence of events known as the Papal Schism. King Wenceslas of Bohemia has been usurped and imprisoned by his younger brother Sigismund.
During the hostilities the men of Sigismund’s army slaughter the humble family of the main character – Henry (splendid name). Henry returns to his home to bury them, and swears vengeance in the form of striving to restore the rightful king.
You have an ally from the start in the form of the miller’s daughter who has rescued you from peril and buried your folks on your behalf. Plans are afoot to make her a fully playable character with her own storyline. But for the moment, we’ll keep to known quantities.
As Henry every one of your decisions has repercussions – whether they are immediately obvious, or manifest so far down the line that you have forgotten which action may have created the current situation. You must keep in mind that this is a reactive environment – how the game plays you depends entirely on how you play the game.
Given that the game is in such an early phase of its development the word in which it takes places is already extremely impressive.
The mapping process that decided the games locations was developed in an unconventional manner – rather than come up with a number of locations in which to set the action and then map them into a wider environment, as you would in most fantasy games, maps of real places were studied, and an area was selected which contained enough interesting locations to then fit the story around. In many ways it was the cartography that dictated the gameplay, rather than the gameplay dictating the cartography.
Some areas of the landscape had to be compressed for the simple reason that even the most dedicated player in search of realism would not wish to spend 18 hours of their precious gameplaying time travelling at walking speed between the more distant locations. To this end, though the gameplaying area is large, the more mundane parts are not, thankfully, on a 1 to 1 scale.
It is however, extremely accurate as the terrain for the final version was generated from a Digital Elevation Map at a definition of 1 metre per pixel.
A large reference library of images was also collected for each location so that the artists could see exactly what these places looked like. And while some of these features no longer exist in their original form, help from archaeologists was sought for the recreations of key buildings such as Rataje castle, where only a part of the outer wall, and the dungeons are as they were in the 15th century.
As for the flora and fauna, these too are being worked on all the time. The animals are a mixture of wild and domestic – there are boar and wolves and fish, as well as sheep and chickens and horses, and these will hunt or try to avoid each other, depending on species.
As Dan mentions in the interview, there are too many spruces in the forests for the environment of the time – this will be corrected but they have also planted the seeds of a possible ‘dark wood’ adventure in later chapters, for which they’d be perfect.
The horses are not dumb animals – they can negotiate obstacles under their own guidance, and shy away from threats to their safety. They have 3 speeds, walk, trot, gallop and will also come to your whistle. They also have their own inventory system, so you can store items for longer journeys without further burdening poor Henry.
Speaking of which, the NPCs or non player characters have been created using a clever system based around modular components which can be rearranged to generate a diverse variety faces, body types, clothing and armour. The clothing and armour are actually layered onto the character along with the different qualities the fabrics and metals possess.
Because the cloth can pick up grime, dirt and worse, your clothes will need cleaning. But don’t panic, as Kingdom Come is a long way from being yet another historic laundry sim.
As for human behaviour, the NPCs are a lot more than the usual shop window dummies, and exhibit an interesting range of behaviour – for instance if one of the peasants has had enough of hoeing the vegetable patch, he may wander off to the pub. However, if he finds it closed or full, he may or may not return to work – he may decide to spend the afternoon fishing instead.
To get as near as possible to a first hand experience of a melee battle without actually starting one themselves, the chaps at Warhorse Studios visited various battle re-enactment groups and hardcore fencing societies. From these, they deliberately chose the most extreme and dedicated of combatants to invite to the studio. Here, they were surrounded with cameras, including head mounted gopros, and encouraged to cycle through their best moves.
Once Warhorse became familiar with the kind of action they wanted in the game, these moves were repeated with the combatants dressed in motion capture suits, digitised and imported into the game.
The moves represent genuine medieval martial arts, and currently there are 18 attack combinations. What Kingdom Come: Deliverance does that I think has been neglected by most games that involve combat is that a portion of the kinetic energy of each blow you deliver will be fed back to your player and denude your stamina levels. This might initially sound like bad news when facing a well armoured opponent, but of course their stamina levels will also be affected by the extra weight they are carrying in terms of metal and though they may be able to resist stabbing and slashing blows, weapons like the dreaded armour hammer can be deployed with concussive and devastating results.
This means that any advantage a heavily armoured foe might have over your character can be balanced by the fatigue it will cause them. If you’re fast enough, and of course smart enough, your opponent can be worn down, and as long as you can avoid receiving a crippling blow, they will tire and begin to make mistakes.
However if your opponent is highly skilled, they can aim for weak points right away, and bring the fight to a rapid close. So combat will be a matter of experience, tactics and knowledge, rather than a hold-your-breath festival of button mashing.
Additionally, due to the nature of the combat dynamics, you will not be able to go on a high-numbers killing spree for the simple fact that your character will literally have been in the wars, and will be physically be unable to tackle hundreds of instances.
Having said that, Warhorse have promised huge battle scenes and castle sieges, so it will be interesting to see how they balance the two factors.
Not ones for doing things by halves, the Warhorse team decided that for a genuinely authentic look, the swords and weapons featured in the game should be made in the real world first, and then scanned into their digital world.
To this end Dan enlisted the help of an old school friend who coincidentally, happened to be a blacksmith. It was important that these swords were forged rather than pressed steel because this way the imperfections of the process would be visible in the game assets.
In future perhaps, as the range of weaponry increases, it might be an idea to get in touch with a museum to see if they would be amenable to the suggestion of having the original items scanned. Being able to fight with an exact digital replica of a weapon that was actually used during the period would be good for marketing, both for Warhorse Studios and the institution who provided the hardware.
Having said that I understand that crafting your own weapons will be an option, so perhaps I should keep my nose out.
The funding of the game is a story in its own right, and I think I shall have to save that to bundle with some other kickstarter funded games and perhaps dedicate a future episode to the subject. However, in short, the funding campaign was so successful that Warhorse Studios were pretty much forced to extend it to allow people to continue to back development in return for early access and in-game goodies.
Needless to say I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this world, and will return to it as soon as new developments emerge.
If you’d like to participate, all the links mentioned in this video can be found in the description box below, in which you can also find a link to the transcript of this video and my interview with Dan Vavrva over at the Digital Digging website.
If you’ve enjoyed this and would like to see more, please feel free to subscribe to my channel, and if you’re feeling particularly enthusiastic, you might also wish to hit the like button.
Well, thanks for watching, and hopefully I’ll see you next time.
The music for the video is ‘Nachtwerk’ by Smooth, and is available from Cyan Music.
To help fund this project and get early access to the game, visit http://kingdomcomerpg.com/ for details.